Jim Siergey: Support Or Stition

November 19th, 2018

I don’t think of myself as a particularly superstitious person.

Black cats don’t bother me, I change my underwear no matter how my luck has been, I don’t stay in bed all day on Friday the 13th, nor do I cross my fingers or throw spilled salt over my shoulder.

However, I do avoid walking under ladders, opening an umbrella indoors or throwing a hat on a bed. The first two are common sense safety rules but the last one, I admit, is a superstition.

I have learned not to comment or even look at someone who is changing a flat tire in the pouring rain. I did that once and immediately got a flat. In this regard, I disagree with Jacqueline Susann. Once is enough.

So, I am a little superstitious.

I also don’t talk about possible projects or events that might happen because I do believe that doing so will jinx them and they won’t occur. A’course, my history with such things has shown that they get jinxed whether I talk about them or not.

Still, mum’s the word.

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Just like Yoko…

 

I recently learned another lesson the hard way and it wasn’t from talking about it. Another winter was arriving and it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a cold in nearly two years. A’course, within a couple of days I came down with a cold. And that was just from thinking about it! Never again.

Not that I do that much thinking anyway.

I sort of prided myself on the fact that I hadn’t had a cold in two years. But I don’t know what there is to be proud about. It’s not like I’m some Uber Mensch who leads an ultra-healthy life, popping vitamins, exercising religiously and eating lots of soup. I was just lucky.

Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have changed my underwear.

To make this event even more memorable, my wife came down with a cold at the same time. With all the honking and hacking and sniffling going on around here it makes for quite a symphony, a symphony sounding like a mash-up of Spike Jones, Metallica and Yoko Ono.

Fortunately, I have a tin ear.

I need to oil it regularly. Now all I need is a heart. Maybe if I follow this yellow brick road….

Methinks the cold medicine is kicking in. Knock on wood.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Cedar Falls

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Letter From Milo: Luc Man

November 19th, 2018
Back in the days when Jack Daniel and I were close friends, I used to do and say a lot of very stupid things. It wasn’t my fault. I blamed it on the booze. As an anonymous old bluesman once sang, “I was high, baby, when I did you wrong and you know it don’t count when you’re high.”

 

I remember staggering home one evening from my local swill-a-teria and passing my neighbor’s house on the way. The neighbor, a lovely woman named Amy, saw me rocking and reeling and called out, “Milo, are you drunk again?”

 

“I am indeed drunk,” I replied, in my usual gentlemanly fashion. “But tomorrow morning I’ll be sober and you’ll still be an ugly old whore.”

 

The next morning Amy’s husband, a big brute of a man who is 20 years younger than I am, confronted me. “Did you call my wife an ugly old whore last night?”

 

“Yes I did,” I answered. “And I’m truly sorry about it. It was presumptuous of me to say that. You see, I don’t know what your wife does for a living.”

 

Instead of kicking my butt, which he had every right to do, Amy’s husband laughed his ass off and invited me over for drinks later that day.

 

I used to hang out at a bar called Sterch’s on Lincoln Avenue. It is far from a chic or trendy spot, just a local saloon that has been sensitive to the needs of drinkers since the early 70s. One evening, a little after midnight, a smartly dressed couple walked in, probably by mistake, or else they were just slumming, checking out the local wildlife. They reeked of class, probably had season tickets to the opera and made regular appearances in Kup’s Column.

 

It just so happened that the gentleman sitting on the bar stool next to me, who I had been having a lively discussion with for the past few hours, chose that moment to pass out. He rocked back and forth a couple of times then fell forward, his head hitting the bar with a loud thump.

 

The society matron appeared disgusted by the sight of my friend dozing on the bar. The woman pointed a well-manicured finger and said, “He must be the local drunk.”

 

“No, lady,” I told her, “We all generally take turns.”

 

I’ve mentioned my good friend Bruce Diksas a few times in my posts. Bruce spends most of the year out of the country, in places like Bali, Nepal and Australia. Due to his proclivity for traveling, and his astute sense of the ridiculous, the editors of this blog site have offered him the prestigious and highly paid position of The Third City‘s Foreign Correspondent. As of this writing, Big Mike, the Barn Boss of this site, and Bruce’s agent, Moe Howard, are still dickering over the terms of the contract. The hangup seems to be the company car. Big Mike is offering a 1997 Ford Taurus while Bruce is still holding out for a late model Buick Electra 225.

 

Anyway, until Bruce comes on board and provides us with his own unique and informative brand of bullshit, I’m going to steal one of his stories.

 

Now, Bruce is a guy who enjoys a good drink once in a while. In fact, he has had the the great pleasure of ordering drinks on five different continents. When they open a saloon in Antarctica I’m sure it won’t be long before Bruce is on a first name basis with the bartender.

 

One day Bruce was sitting in his favorite watering hole on the island of Bali when in walks the biggest man he has ever seen. Not only that, the huge man is accompanied by a six-foot tall blond that would make Stevie Wonder look twice. When the awesome couple took seats at the bar next to Bruce, he realized that the man was none other than Luc Longley, the Aussie who was the former center for the Chicago Bulls. Bruce, being a Chicagoan and a Bulls fan, introduced himself and offered to buy Luc and his companion drinks. Luc accepted and shortly afterward reciprocated.

 

A few hours and quite a few drinks later, Bruce was feeling pretty good. In fact, he felt bulletproof, like Superman. He felt so good that he challenged Luc Longley to a game of one-on-one.

 

Luc, who must have faced this situation countless times, graciously declined, claiming a bum knee.

 

We were having a few drinks, a few months later, when Bruce related this story to me. Maybe it was the booze, or maybe Bruce was just feeling feisty, but he put his own unique spin on the tale. He didn’t outright say it, but he intimated that perhaps, just perhaps, the great Luc Longley chickened out.

 

“Can’t say I blame him,” I replied. “After all, why would any seven-foot tall former NBA basketball player with three chanpionship rings to his credit want to tangle with a drunk 60-year-old Lithuanian with a four-inch vertical leap.”

 

“My point, exactly,” Bruce said.
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Letter From Milo: Rib Man

November 13th, 2018
I’ll eat almost anything. The word “omnivore” doesn’t do me justice. If it walks, crawls, flies or swims – as long as it doesn’t have opposable thumbs – I’ll try it.

 

I’m not saying I’m as adventurous as Andrew Zimmern, the nutcase who hosts “Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel but I’ve eaten some pretty odd meals. I’ve eaten bugs, rodents, pig and cow testicles, raw beef and raw fish. I’ve tried fungi, mosses, weeds and leaves from trees. I’ve eaten food that looked great but tasted vile and food that looked disgusting but was absolutely delicious. I’ve had food that’s gotten me stoned (hash brownies) and food that’s sent me to the emergency room (tainted chicken).

 

That said, there is one meal that I prefer over all others. It is the meal I would order if I was on Death Row and it would be the last food I’d ever taste. I’d go to the gallows with a twinkle in my eye and a song in my heart as long as my face and hands were smeared with sweet, sticky and spicy red sauce.

 

Yes, folks I’m talking about barbecued ribs, God’s gift to the human taste bud.

 

I’ve eaten ribs in rib hotspots all over the countryChicago, the Carolinas, Memphis and Kansas City. Each of these places claims supremacy in the art of barbecue. And each has a valid claim. My good friend Bruce Diksas, tells me that there’s even a rib joint on the island of Bali, where he lives part of the year. The place is run by an American ex-patriot and advertises Chicago-style ribs.

 

One day Bruce decided to try the Balinesian ribs. Now, Bruce grew up in Bridgeport and knows a thing or two about ribs. When he finished the platter, the bar owner asked Bruce how he liked them.

 

Bruce shook his head sadly and said, “Sorry, pal, these ribs would never make it in Chicago.

 

One of the first times I ever tasted great ribs was in a small storefront in Gary, Indiana, called Shoe’s Ribs and Chicken. Shoe’s specialty was a rib sandwich, which was nothing more than two or three rib bones slapped between two slices of Wonder Bread, drenched in sauce and served on waxed paper. I don’t recall if napkins were made available. Anyway, those rib sandwiches were delicious. Man, a couple of those and a cold bottle of Blatz and you were set for the day.

 

When I settled in Chicago, I thought I found rib heaven. There were good rib joints everywhere. My favorite was a small spot off North Avenue by the Chicago River called Edith’s. In my opinion, Edith’s ribs were close to perfect. Edith used baby back ribs and the texture was just right. They weren’t wussy ribs that fell off the bone if a slight breeze passed by. You had to work them a bit but it was well worth the trouble.

 

The best ribs aren’t always found in restaurants. Some of the best ribs I’ve ever tasted have been at backyard barbecues. Two stand out in particular. One old friend, a college buddy named Way Out Willie Bauer, was and probably still is, a rib master. He took infinite care with his ribs, hovering over the grill like a card shark over pocket aces. He constantly adjusted the coals, carefully turned the slabs and watched for flare-ups as intensely as a California park ranger watches for brush fires. When it came time to add the sauce, Willie’s brushwork was every bit the equal of Picasso‘s. And Willie would accomplish these magnificent rib feats while consuming huge quantities of booze and reefer.

 

Another rib master is my neighbor, John O’Connor, who works as an attorney in order to finance his rib habit. John prefers a dry rub to sauce. Although I’m a sauce man I have to admit that John’s dry rub is the best I’ve ever tasted, spicy but not overpowering. He hosts a backyard cookout every summer. I always try to be on my best behavior at his cookouts because I don’t want to get drunk and do something so stupid that he won’t invite me back. His ribs are that good.

 

A while ago I wrote about visiting Kansas City with Bruce Diksas. We went for a reunion of our old army outfit. Now, Kansas City has a lot of things going for it. It’s not Milwaukee or Indianapolis, for one thing. But in my mind Kansas City’s greatest asset, it’s municipal pride and joy, is Arthur Bryant’s.

 

For years, Arthur Bryant’s, along with the Rendezvous in Memphis and Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina, has been ranked as one of the top rib joints in the country. There was no way on Earth we were going to Kansas City and not visit Bryant’s. It would be like going back to your home town and not visiting Mom.

 

We were not disappointed. Bryant’s served superb ribs, meaty, al dente and with a wonderful sauce. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. We each had a slab accompanied by French fries and a scoop of slaw. I doubt Bruce and I spoke a word while devouring those fantastic ribs. We just grunted, groaned, belched, slurped, licked our fingers and guzzled beer. When we finished, we leaned back in our chairs, patted our distended bellies and sighed with pleasure.

 

“Well, what do you think?” I asked Bruce.

 

“You know, Milo,” he said, “I think those ribs would make it in Chicago.”
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Jim Siergey: Cedar Falls

November 13th, 2018

We recently had a couple over for dinner. A wisenheimer might ask “A couple of what?” So, to set the record straight, it was a couple of people. Man and woman, husband and wife, he and she, him and her.

Okay?

It was an enjoyable evening as we sipped (or, in my case, slugged) wine, munched on appetizers, engorged on the main meal and made room for dessert. Y’know, All-American stuff. Good eatin’, good company, good times.

Who could ask for anything more?

During the course (pre-, main and post) of the evening, many topics were touched upon and many a tale told. Steve, a long-time resident of Chicago, was originally from Iowa so quite a few of his stories ended up or took place in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Before this evening I had never heard of Cedar Falls, Iowa. I’ve heard of Cedar Rapids and Rapid City, which is in another state that caused me to segue into a story of my own that took place there but which I shall not do in this space, as well as Sioux Falls, Frostbite Falls (thanks to Rocky and Bullwinkle) and Niagara Falls (“Slowly I turned…”) but not Cedar Falls.

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The great Ms. Arden…

 

I didn’t learn much about Cedar Falls that evening although information may have been dispensed but, like I said, I was pounding the wine down and I’m sure my thoughts were drifting away now and then down the ol’ Red River. I do, however, remember Cedar Falls being the locale of a few different stories.

So, gimme a gold star for that.

Eventually the visit, as all visits do, came to an end and the aforementioned couple took their leave.

I had to open a fresh bottle as both my glass and the other bottles were drained and I had yet to reach that Brick Pollitt “click”. My goblet fully refreshed, I wandered to the couch and flipped on my ol’ pal, the television.

Playing was “Our Miss Brooks”, not the old TV program from the 1950s but a movie based on the TV program. It was made in the ‘50s and had the same cast as the small screen show—Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Richard Crenna and Robert Rockwell.

In the movie Miss Brooks is a newly arrived high school English teacher who, while strolling the grounds, encounters the science teacher, Mister Boynton,who was exercising, shirtless(!), on the grassy campus in front of the school. During an exchange of innocently witty banter, Mr. Boynton released the following nugget of information.

“I just moved here last year from (Wait for it. Here it comes. Are you ready?) Cedar Falls, Iowa!!!!” (exclamation point emphasis mine)

If I wasn’t already nearly supine on the couch I might have fallen over or, like an old comic strip, leapt backwards out of the panel with only my shoeless feet showing.

I love it when a Cosmic Coincidence occurs. No matter the size or importance, its unexpected appearance suddenly makes things strangely wonderful, if only for an instant.

If I wasn’t so groggy from the wine and food I would have given a round of applause or three hearty cheers or maybe even a round of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to the mystical wonderfulness of good ol’ Cosmic Coincidence. But I was beginning to nestle into the comforting arms of Morpheus so I merely smiled.

Cedar freakin’ Falls, man.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was The Rake’s Progress

 

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Jim Siergey: The Rake’s Progress

November 7th, 2018

The time had come for me to partake in my least favorite of the seasonal chores—The Raking of the Leaves.

Actually, the actual raking part is not so bad. It’s the stooping, gathering and disposal of the raked leaves that is the killer. In the city, one had to stoop, gather and fill large plastic “Lawn & Leaf” bags with the amassed tree droppings, bundle them up and drag them off to the alley where garbage trucks would haul them away.

Out here in the suburbs there are no alleys and the bagging of leaves is not allowed. The rule here is to line them up like a long leafy worm on your parkway next to the curb (NOT in the street!) to await the arrival of some sort of town truck that will suck up this trail of leaves like a giant vacuum cleaner.

I have yet to see this machine but this is the story I have been told.

So, instead of bagging and dragging, I rake up piles from which I fill a wheelbarrow that I trek back and forth from my back yard (where all the leaves have gathered) to dump and arrange on the front parkway.

After a few hours of this tediousness one can get rather weary.

leaf poetryMr. Crumb said it so well…

 

Whenever I tire of raking I flash back to a memory from my youth where I was up in northern Wisconsin visiting my grandfather. His property, which was vast, had a lot of trees and one autumn day I was helping him rake up leaves.

After some hours I had reached a point where I was ready to pack it in. But then I looked around and saw my grandfather, who was close to 90 years of age, raking away looking as fresh and vital as I should have looked.

I couldn’t let my grandfather think I was the weak excuse for a man that I was so I raked on. Decades later he’s still there, silently pushing me onward.

Griping aside, there’s something poetic about being outside on a nice, crisp autumn day where throughout the neighborhood the air is filled with the skritching and scraping sounds of rakes against the leaves upon the lawn.

At least, once upon a time there was.

Now, the only sounds one hears is that of machinery. Everyone is out using their mowers and mulchers and leaf blowers. Instead of communing with nature I feel like I’m on the runway at O’Hare Field.

No longer are there the pastoral sounds of swooshing rakes, scraping snow shovels or push mowers going clickety-clack. Technology has taken over.

Me, I’m still trying to hold out the best I can. If it was good enough for my grandfather, it’s good enough for me.

A’course, if they come up with a noiseless drone that will mow my lawn, rake my leaves and shovel my snow (preferably during the night like the shoemaker’s elves) I will be the first in line with credit card in hand waiting for Ace Hardware’s doors to open.

Sorry, Gramps. I hope you understand.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Thank You, Spam

 

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Randolph Street: First Responders

November 7th, 2018

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Shiftbreak–1500 Block Of West Wellington

 

By the time I stumbled onto this fire it was already mostly over. The fire, which started in the alley, burned two coachhouses and must have been roaring at some point. There were at least six trucks and a mobile fire command set up. Nobody was hurt.

 

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Captain

 

 

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Almost Out

 

 

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Cool Down

 

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Firewatch

 

All photos © Jon Randolph 2015

jonrandolph.com

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Letter From Milo: Little Secrets

November 5th, 2018
A long time ago I discovered that a married man has to keep some things to himself. For example, I never tell my wife about my affairs, gambling debts, opium habit, prison record, or the child support payments I’ve been making for the past 30 years. Its not that she wouldn’t be totally supportive, you understand, its simply a matter of not wanting to worry her needlessly.

 

For the last six weeks, however, I’ve been keeping a secret from her and it’s been eating away at me.

 

If you recall, I recently enrolled in the VA hospital health care system. One of the first things they wanted me to do was take a physical. I thought it was a good idea. I haven’t had a physical in years, which is stupid, considering my somewhat advanced age.

 

They put me through a battery of tests – blood, x-rays – the usual shit. The doctor told me that I seemed to be in pretty good shape, considering that I’m a smoker, drinker and eater of red meat. He’d have to wait until the test results came back, however, before he was prepared to give me a clean bill of health. I made an appointment to see him again the following week.

 

When I met with the doctor again, he had a grim look on his face. He had one of my x-rays on his desk. He held it up, pointed to it and said, “It looks like you’ve got an enlarged heart.”

 

I think I can speak for most people when I say that the last things you want to hear from your doctor are the words cancer and anything having to do with the heart.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, nervously.

 

“I can’t tell until we do a couple of more tests. But if it’s an enlarged heart it’s not good.”

 

We made an appointment for six weeks later for more extensive testing.

 

When I left the VA hospital, I decided not to tell my wife about my possible enlarged heart. She’s a worrier and right now there’s a lot of stress in our lives. I didn’t want to add another layer on the shitcake. Besides, I wouldn’t know for sure whether I did, indeed, have a heart problem for another six weeks. I decided that the only person that should be worried during that time period was me.

 

It was a long six weeks. I tried to carry on normally, but my family sensed something was amiss. One day my wife said, “The girls think there’s something wrong with you.”

 

“Why would they say that?”

 

“Because you’re acting weird.”

 

“Shit, honey, I’m a weird guy.”

 

“Yeah, but you’re acting weirder than usual.”

 

“Heh, heh, I’ll have a talk with them later.”

 

I’ll admit I was nervous when I went back to the VA hospital for the additional testing. I’ve always taken my health for granted. I come from hearty peasant stock. I figured I was like Keith Richards, someone who defied the laws of nature. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe my time was up. Maybe I had just made a down payment on 40 acres. Maybe I was on my way to Graceland and didn’t even know it. All sorts of odd thoughts went through my mind, the majority of them gloomy.

 

I went through a whole series of tests. One of them was, I think, called an echocardiogram. It involved me lying flat on some sort of conveyor belt while I was slowly fed through a contraption that looked like an iron lung on steriods. All in all, I spent about two hours at the hospital, being poked, prodded, bled, x-rayed and magnetically imaged.

 

“I’ll let you know the results as soon as they come in,” the doctor told me.

 

The doctor called the next morning. “I’ve got good news for you,” he said. “You don’t have an enlarged heart. You have an enlarged artery and that’s not really anything to worry about.”

 

As soon as I got off the phone, I told my wife the whole story. She looked at me in disbelief.

 

“You ASSHOLE! Why didn’t you tell me right away?”

 

“I didn’t want you to worry. Besides, I wanted to know for sure if there was a problem.”

 

“So, that why you’ve been acting like an idiot for the last few weeks.”

 

“I thought I was acting normal.”

 

“No you weren’t. You’ve been moping around like a 10-year-old. Plus you’ve been drinking way too much.”

 

“Honey I was a little out of sorts. A little wine helped me sleep better.”

 

“No it didn’t. The wine just made you drunk.”

 

“Well, yes, that too.”

 

“Promise me you’ll never keep secrets like that from me again.”

 

“Sure thing, honey. Whatever you say.”

 

“Liar.”
Milo Samardzija’s great American novel, “Schoolboy,” is on sale now. If you haven’t bought a copy yet you are a cheap illiterate. Is that how you want people to think of you? – The Eds.
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